It’s been two weeks since I took Paul Thurrott’s advice to upgrade my Nokia Lumia 1020 to Windows Phone 8.1 (the developer pre-release). In that time I have roamed from Ireland to France and Italy and the phone has functioned perfectly, so all I can report is that this is an upgrade worth having.
That is, if you are willing to accept the obvious limitations that come along with the upgrade. In a nutshell, these are:
- You’ll probably lose support from your mobile operator for any problem that occurs with the phone. Most operators aren’t too impressed when users take it upon themselves to apply code that the operator knows little or nothing about, and you can be guaranteed that any of the staff you meet in one of the operator’s shops will know less about Windows Phone 8.1 than you do. On the other hand, they’ll be happy to talk to you about iPhone or Android devices, a sad reflection on the state of Windows Phone in the mobile marketplace.
- There’s no way back. Once you update your device to Windows Phone 8.1 you cannot restore Windows Phone 8 (WP8).
- Mobile operator code is missing. In most cases this is an advantage as mobile operators do seem to have the habit of putting some awful rubbish on devices before providing phones to customers. It certainly didn’t worry me to lose links to EBay and the like that clutter up the phone screen when it came out of the box. But I accept that some operators do place useful code on devices, so you need to take this into account before applying the update.
Another caveat is that some devices will be more amenable to upgrades than others. The fact that Paul had upgraded his Nokia Lumia 1020 gave me a lot of confidence that I wouldn’t hit any problems. The same case might not exist for other devices, so it’s worth searching to find out if anyone else has upgraded your particular model before you take the plunge.
All of the apps previously installed on the phone continued to work following the upgrade, which is always a relief. Some obvious differences exist, such as a separate FM Radio app (which works better than the radio part of the music hub in WP8) and the way that the different social networking apps update the People hub, but generally devices work as you’d expect. I did note that the battery life indicator appeared to register very low readings for a few days following the update but normal operation has largely resumed and battery life is much the same as it was with WP8.
The new calendar view is worth the update alone. Looking at a WP8 calendar often required a great deal of squinting to determine detail. The new layout is much easier to navigate and find information.
Of course, Cortana is the headline app. But because I live in Ireland, Cortana was unavailable after the update. This is because Cortana is not fully internationalized yet – as described in this article, you need to update your regional and language settings to something that is supported (like U.S. English) before Cortana will deign to speak with you. “U.S. English” is actually a difficult thing to define given that so many regional accents exist in the U.S. and so many people from different backgrounds pronounce words or phrases in various ways. It’s the same for every country and I am sure that some work is now ongoing to capture the mysteries of Irish regional dialects before Cortana can be launched in its true glory here.
But I think I shall not use Cortana very much. It’s a neat party trick and people will enjoy its party tricks (like asking Cortana “who’s your daddy”), but only once. Making voice recognition work really well is a very difficult technical challenge. Perhaps I shall like Cortana better as time goes by but for now better reasons exist to upgrade. Unless you really do want to play with Cortana…
Follow Tony @12Knocksinna